On the world of Majestia in western Meadhan, there was a mountain range called the High Fells due to its barren and desolate landscape in its higher altitudes. Few creatures lived in the crags and peaks of the range. But within the mountain, there was a mercenary corps entirely composed of archers known as the Company of Flight.
For almost seven centuries since being formed in the Third Era 68 in the far east, the Company had served others in times of war. Its reputation was well known thanks in part to its four smaller contingents, called flights that specialized in its own duties, tactics, bows, and chains of command.
First of the flights was Raven, the Company’s spies, scouts, and assassins. They used recurve bows meaning their bow tips curved away from the archer. This allowed a recurve bow to be shorter and pack just as much or more of a punch than the longer, simpler longbow. Their short size also allowed them to fit into tight spaces, and every bow had strips of leather with fur glued to them tied around their bowstrings helping to reduce vibration after a shot.
But Raven’s bows weren’t the only things that gave it so much success in espionage and assassination; it was also that most of the flight’s ranks were women. Their smaller statures and lithe bodies enabled them to squeeze into tight spaces, and should they get caught, they could use their sexuality to their advantage.
Owl was for the archers that served as the Company’s tacticians, artisans, and engineers making them responsible for creating the Company’s war machines and siege weapons. Owl members commonly used crossbows giving them maximum accuracy for the least amount of effort. In order to join Owl, an archer had to be able to service a war machine and drive nails from fifty feet away with a single crossbow bolt.
The strongest archers were found in flight Eagle and were the finest combat archers on Majestia. Their warbows, longbows as tall as a man and requiring the same amount of strength to draw as to lift an average-sized woman, could puncture plate armor and fire an arrow farther than three hundred and fifty yards. Due to the strength required to draw and fire these bows continuously for five hours, every member of Eagle was a tall and burly man with arm muscles the size of a barbarian’s leg. Eagle was also the largest flight boasting close to one thousand men.
The last flight was Dragon. These were the specialists of the Company often sent out on missions requiring a combination of brains, stealth, and strength. These archers used a truly unique bow known as Ceithir bows, named for the Company man who invented them. They were shaped like regular recurves except they had two more limbs. Called pony limbs, they arced like a waxing crescent moon away from the bow and were strung to one of the other bow limbs. This design gave Dragon a bow of incredible power and speed, but the extra limbs created more noise. The solution was to add string silencers to the two extra strings and gave them back their stealth.
But the pony limbs were not the only advancement in the design of Dragon’s bows—they also had arrow rests and a sight window cut into the center of their bow staves just above the rest. The arrow rest gave an archer a reliable perch from which to shoot his arrow instead of off his hand giving him greater consistency. The sight window served two purposes: it was easier to aim around, and by reducing the thickness of the bow stave, it helped to reduce the effects of archer’s paradox, a phenomenon caused by the string shooting forward meaning the arrow had to bend and flex around the bow stave when released. In order for the arrow to remain as accurate as possible, the arrow shaft had to have the correct spine, or stiffness, equal to the bow’s power to offset the paradox. If the arrow was too stiff or not stiff enough, it would not fly straight. However, the presence of the sight window helped to diminish the effects of the archer’s paradox and made the bow’s accuracy more forgiving.
Living in the High Fells offered the Company diverse training environments. The hills had deceptive dips and rises forcing archers to learn how to range their shots. The caves within allowed them to train without interference from the weather and in close quarters which simulated fighting in cities. The caves also gave them the opportunity to train on live targets should anything that lived within the dark and treacherous recesses of the mountain decide to attack.
Due to all their combat experience and advanced technology, the services of the Company were highly sought after by nations and nobles. Lo and behold, another war was coming.
Farther down the mountain, a well-travelled path was being watched over by a small contingent of flight Raven when a small troop began to approach. In it were a dozen mounted knights in full plate armor bearing swords, shields, and lances. Behind them was a drawn carriage with four white horses in front. The carriage was about the size of a large room with violet silk curtains billowing out its windows.
The carriage bore the crest of the king of Talian: a red lion outlined with gold filigree emblazoned on a white shield. The same crest was on the pennon carried by the standardbearer. But most interesting was the man behind him who looked like a sorcerer in a long, blue robe atop a black horse.
As the royal troop neared Raven’s position, a woman of average height in leather armor with a hood and cape stepped out from behind a boulder. “Halt!”
The troop stopped.
“Gentlemen, I must warn you that beyond this border, you’ll be crossing into the lands controlled by the Company of Flight. Anyone wishing to pass through must pay a toll or you will be shot.”
The sorcerer felt the presence of at least six archers all drawing their bows from different hiding places. But he was not worried; instead he prodded his horse beyond the standardbearer and stopped. “My name is Alezar. I am the court mage of the Kingdom of Talian and advisor to his royal majesty, King Talianus.”
“Good afternoon, Alezar. I’m Sergeant Alena of flight Raven. What business do you have in the High Fells?”
“King Talianus wishes to hire the Company of Flight for an upcoming conflict.”
“Is that so?” said Alena, folding her arms. “Well, I’m sure Captain Gawain would be interested in hearing your proposal, but I cannot allow you into our borders so heavily armed. And we will need a good faith payment before we take you into the mountain.”
“What are your terms, sergeant?”
“You and six of your knights can come with us so long as they agree to be disarmed. The rest of your men will stay here. Your good faith payment will need to be a handsome prize or something of equal value. And we will need to inspect the carriage.”
“General Cazzo,” called Alezar to the only knight not wearing a helmet. “Will you please call out the princess? And bring forth the chest.”
“Hey!” said Cazzo to his men. “Get the princess and the gold.”
As three of the knights entered the carriage, Alezar kept speaking. “The carriage contains only two things of value, sergeant. One is your prize and the other is Princess Asina, eldest daughter of King Talianus.”
Two knights came out of the carriage laboring to carry a wooden chest as tall as a man’s knees and as long as his legs. They set it down in front of Alena and opened it; her eyes widened. She had never seen so much gold. Then from out of the carriage stepped Princess Asina. She looked to be in her mid-twenties with long black hair and a pointed nose which she kept in the air. Her simple yet elegant lilac dress shimmered in the sun.
“Is this the Company of Flight?” she bit.
“It is one of their officers,” replied Alezar.
“Why would a woman ever be a warrior? Damn waste.”
Alena’s eyes narrowed.
“Sergeant Alena,” said Alezar, “do we have an accord?”
“We do, but your princess will also have to accompany us into the mountain. As a sign of trust.”
“No! I won’t do it. I’m not going into a dirty cave!”
“Your highness, it was your father’s wish that you follow all orders given by the Company.”
“Well he isn’t here, is he?!”
“You are coming with us, like it or not,” said Alena.
Two dozen archers materialized, eight of them with bows drawn.
“Lord Alezar, choose the men who will accompany you into the mountain. Two of you, take this chest away.”
Two archers stepped up to the chest, but had trouble lifting it. It ended up requiring two more to help.
Alezar turned to Cazzo and let him choose five of his men. After doing so, they were disarmed. The whole time, Cazzo had a crooked smile on his face. “I didn’t know the Company of Flight was made up entirely of women.”
“It isn’t,” said Alena. “Just most of flight Raven.”
“The rest are young or exceptionally flexible men. And now, Princess Asina, you will either join us in the mountain or you will die. Which do you choose?”
“You dare threaten me?! A princess of Talian?! I’m not going in there and you can’t make me!”
“Bind her hands and gag her.”
Four archers stepped forward.
“You filthy whores set a hand on me and our magician will turn you all into newts!”
“Forget the gag—cut out her tongue.”
“Don’t you dare!” ordered Asina, stepping back. “Alezar! I command you to use your magic!”
“I’m sorry, your highness. I am under strict orders not to do anything to upset the Company. You will go with us on their terms or I’ll bind you myself.”
Asina hemmed and hawed. “This is outrageous!” She stood stock still and screeched at the top of her lungs. “I hate you all!”
“Alright,” said Alena satisfied. “Let’s go.”
She led Alezar, Cazzo, Asina, and the five knights past the boulder off the path into a nearby forest. Escorting them from behind were a dozen members of Raven while the rest stayed behind to watch the other knights.
Alena walked up to an enormous tor that rose out of the slope of the mountain. She picked up a large rock and beat it against a flat rock wall in a specific rhythm.
Alezar noticed the wall did not appear to be made of rock from the sound made by the knocks. His suspicions were confirmed when a small slot in the wall slid open and Alena pulled her hood down to show her face. The slot slid closed and a door swung inside.
Alena led them into a dark and narrow tunnel that was dimly lit by a series of torches. Just to the side of the door were three archers sitting at a table playing a game of four kings.
The tunnel went on for a ways. Asina asked, “How much farther?!”
“Patience, your highness,” replied Alena. “And prepare your eyes for wonder.”
The tunnel ended and opened into an expansive subterranean cavern. All around them, they heard the sounds of people. People living, working, and training. They walked by carrying bows, swords, and light armors. Laughing, talking, children crying, and dogs barking echoed in the large stone hall. Bowstrings snapped, fletchings rustled against the air, and arrows thudded into targets over and over. A faint smell of sweat was mixed with one of moist earth. Most of the Company lived in smaller alcoves cut into the cavern walls, but there were tents and wooden shacks feathered throughout. The entire assembly was lit by torches, sconces, and braziers.
As they came out of the tunnel, a tall man walked up to Alena. “What’s this all about?”
“Emissaries from Talian, Hathus. They would like to see Gawain and negotiate for our services.”
“Wait here.” Hathus walked down a sloping path deeper into the cavern.
“My lady and gentlemen,” said Alena, turning to Alezar and the others. “If the Captain isn’t busy at the moment, he’ll see you immediately. If he is, then we’ll see to it that you are made comfortable.”
“How comfortable could anyone be in this place?” spat Asina.
“How comfortable would you be with my boot in your ass?” replied Alena.
Asina growled. “Disrespectful hussy!”
Hathus’ head appeared from the path below. “Alena! The Captain will see them.”
“Please,” said Alena to Alezar, “follow Sergeant Hathus from here. I need to return to my post.”
Alena left but her comrades remained escorting Alezar and the others after Hathus deeper into the cavern. As they went, Alezar noticed every archer in the Company had an arrowhead hanging from his neck. Each one was different from the last but most of the men seemed to have wide broadheads while the women had more acute bodkin points. Alezar had heard of this tradition, but didn’t know the significance.
They came to a wooden structure carved into two cavern walls about the size of a small house. In the center of the structure was a large table and four men sat around it with several papers strewn between them. Also in attendance were four others who stood next to the four seated, three men and one woman.
As Hathus approached with the Talians, the four seated men stood up. The one across the table wearing eyeglasses spoke. “Welcome. I am Captain Gawain of the Company of Flight.”
“Good afternoon, Captain,” said Alezar. “I am the court mage of Talian and the royal advisor. My name is Alezar. This distinguished gentleman to my left…”
Cazzo stifled a laugh.
“…is General Cazzo. And this young lady is Princess Asina.”
“Good afternoon,” said Gawain. “I was just having a logistics meeting with my other captains and their lieutenants. Please sit down. Lieutenant Aeron, please bring us some water.”
“Yes, Captain,” said Aeron as he left.
The other captains surrendered their seats for Alezar, Cazzo, and Asina.
Gawain asked, “How are things in Talian?”
“Up until recently, they had been pleasant,” replied Alezar.
“Yeah. That damn child sorcerer is making a right mess,” added Cazzo.
Alezar explained, “The general is referring to King Jeremy the Wicked.”
“I haven’t heard of him.”
“Indeed, for he has only recently started his reign of terror. Small patrols of his army have been terrorizing, burning, and attacking lone towns and disrupting trade routes. It’s very costly for us and the neighboring kingdoms of Ruthenia and Silesia. Though, all of western Meadhan seems to be suffering.”
Aeron returned with four mugs and a pitcher of water. Gawain served the water offering it to Asina first, then Alezar and Cazzo. Alezar took a courteous sip while Cazzo chugged it. Asina however did not even acknowledge the mug before her.
“So then,” started Gawain, “let’s get down to business.”
As Alezar launched into negotiations, a crowd began to form around the meeting. Some were far too close for Asina’s comfort as they stood within the foundation of the structure. She noticed two men standing quite near her around a load-bearing pole. One was in his early thirties while the other was in his late twenties. The younger one had long black hair and brown eyes. He was taller than the older one, and the broadhead around his neck was made from a strange black glass resembling a dragon’s head. They were both barrel-chested and carried Ceithir bows.
“What’s going on, Lennox?” said the younger.
“Where are they from?”
“That’s a fairly new kingdom. Not even thirty years old.”
“Yeah. It once belonged to that tyrant Verdugo.”
Suddenly, the younger archer felt a small pinch in his neck. He quickly pulled his head away and smacked it into the wooden post next to him. Several people snickered while Asina rolled her eyes and turned her attention to Alezar.
The young archer looked over his shoulder and saw a middle-aged woman with long, dark hair. “Hey, Morgana.”
Morgana scrunched up her face and dug her thumb into his side. “That’s Lieutenant Morgana, Daven!”
“Ah-hah,” responded Daven, trying not to disturb the meeting.
“I’d even settle for Aunt Morgana,” she added, digging her thumb in deeper.
“Ah-ah! Okay, okay,” he said, turning to face her. “What do you want, Aunt—uh, Lieutenant Morgana?”
“Nothing,” she said with a smile. “Just wanted to annoy my beloved nephew.”
“Isn’t that sweet?”
“Shut up, Lennox,” replied Daven.
“That’s Sergeant Lennox,” he corrected.
“I thought it was Perverted Lennox.”
“Or Daft Lennox,” added Morgana.
“I will demote you, Daven.”
“To what? I can’t get any lower than what I am.”
“Then I’ll make you scrub my balls.”
“Watch it!” said Morgana, hitting Lennox in the back of the head. “You have royalty present.”
At last, Gawain said, “Then it’s settled.”
“We have a deal,” agreed Alezar.
“When will you need us to move out?”
“The sooner the better, Captain. We have no clear idea when King Jeremy will attack. And we’ve heard terrible rumors that with his magic he can simply open a portal from Dunragit right next to the Ebony Tower and be right at our front gates!”
Gawain went white. “That is bad.”
“And the king is eager for us to return as soon as possible.”
“Well, in that case, I will begin to mobilize my men as humanly possible. But, I can send a vanguard with you as you take Shortcutter Pass back to Talian.”
“Poor bastards,” whispered Lennox. “I don’t envy the saps who get stuck with that mission.”
“I’ll assign some of our best soldiers to the vanguard. In fact, let me introduce some of them to you.” Gawain indicated two men on his right. “This is Captain Flint and Lieutenant Crag of Dragon flight.”
“What?!” said Lennox, his eyes growing wide.
“And on your right are Sergeant Lennox and one of the finest non-ranking members of Dragon, Daven.”
“Gods damn it!” hissed Lennox.
Daven put his hand on his forehead. “You jinxed us.”
“You can leave tomorrow,” said Gawain. “The pass is treacherous, especially at night.”
“I want to leave now!” said Asina.
“Well…” said Gawain, “that’s not too much of a problem.”
“You bitch!” Lennox stomped off.